How to Use Chemicals to Start Fires

How to Use Chemicals to Start Fires


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One of the most effective, yet least discussed ways to start fires without a flame is by using chemistry.  Combining certain common chemicals together can create thermal reactions that start fires instantly.  Let’s take a look at a few examples that involve chemicals that are generally legal and relatively easy to obtain in most places.

Nail Polish Remover

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You can mix nail polish remover with sulfuric acid and potassium permagenate together and start an instant and hot chemical fire.  The trick is to incorporate the chemicals in the right order and use appropriate methods.  The first step is to douse a piece of tissue in the acetone, or the active ingredient in nail polish remover.   

Then, take your sulfuric acid, which you can get from a car battery or else in a bottle from a chemistry shop, and use a GLASS pipette or plastic spoon to obtain a few drops.  Never use a metal spoon when handling sulfuric acid.  Squeeze a few drops from the pipette onto the tissue.  If you use the spoon, drip a few drops of the acid onto the tissue and then sprinkle a few crystals of the potassium permagenate on top.  Following these steps will create a fire instantly.


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You will need some ammonium nitrate, some hydrochloric acid along with some zinc powder.  You can get the nitrate from fertilizer or a fertilizer supply store in small quantities if you’re lucky, and you can use some forms of pool acid as an alternative to straight hydrochloric acid.  Mix the ammonium nitrate with the zinc powder and add some drops of hydrochloric acid.  The acid will cause the exothermic reaction which will give you a nice starter fire.  Do this near or next to your kindling or tinder and you can get your main fire going in a matter of seconds.


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You can also start a thermal reaction that will produce a fire by using some glycerin along with potassium permagenate and water.  Place your tinder, wood shavings or other starter material atop some cardboard.  Carefully pour a small amount of the glycerin atop the material.  Sprinkle some of the potassium permagenate crystals atop the doused material.  Add a few drops of water when finished.  The water will cause the reaction to occur more quickly, and the tinder should ignite as the chemicals create a hot fire.  Quickly transport the tinder to your main fire and you’re good to go.

Sugar Fire

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You can start a fire with basic sugar crystals along with sodium chlorate and a little bit of sulfuric acid.  You can find sodium chlorate in certain types of water purification tablets, or you can get it in a powder from a supply store.  Grind the tablets into a powder and mix with the sugar.  Place next to your kindling or tinder and carefully add a few drops of the sulfuric acid.  The acid will start the reaction that will create the fire.

All of these examples are just general ideas that are based on commonly-known chemical reactions.  You should experiment with different amounts and proportions to create a fire that’s just right for your needs.  It’s also very important that you take precautions to protect your skin and eyes as well as your clothing from accidentally catching fire.  Never keep the bottles or supplies of chemicals near to where you are combining the ingredients, and always mix the chemicals outside in a safe area.

It is very easy and inexpensive to acquire and store these common chemicals, and they will most definitely start a fire when mixed properly.  While they may not seem all that practical during a survival situation, they may help you to get a fire going a lot faster than many other alternative methods out there.  Look further into these options and see if they are something that you should add to your survival bag of tricks.


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